Teaching Students About Fire
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From the Technical Director
Teaching Students About Fire

By  Morgan J. Hurley, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering

Many of the challenges that face the fire protection engineering profession can be traced to a common cause: Most people do not know about the profession or the important work that is done by fire protection engineers.


One challenge is that the demand for fire protection engineers far exceeds the supply. Part of the reason for this is that people are unlikely to enter a profession about which they are unfamiliar. Another challenge is that construction design teams occasionally do not use fire protection services. It is difficult for construction teams to understand the value of fire protection engineers if they do not know who fire protection engineers are or what they do.


In 2004, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) began to focus on raising the profile of the fire protection engineering profession. Goals were developed, a new staff person was hired to help achieve these goals, and a public recognition strategy was developed and implemented. To date, much of SFPE's efforts in this area have focused on placing articles in the media that highlight the important work done by fire protection engineers.


In his article that begins on page 18, Ed Comeau notes that there is a tremendous opportunity associated with educating students. In addition to the short-term benefits associated with teaching students, they are likely to retain the messages to which they are exposed beyond their student years. Almost all technically oriented students study chemistry at some point of time during their high school career. Many of the concepts that are taught in high school chemistry classes form the foundation for subjects that are relevant to fire protection engineering. Chemical reactions are taught in high school chemistry classes and fire is a chemical reaction. Many basic fire science concepts can be cast in a format that is consistent with the topics in the high school chemistry curriculum.


Therefore, as part of SFPE's public recognition strategy and with the support of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency, SFPE is partnering with Discovery Education, a subsidiary of Discovery Communications, to develop a curriculum kit called The Chemistry of Fire. This curriculum kit will provide a number of lessons and lectures regarding fire science that are tailored to high school students.With the assistance of Discovery Education, SFPE will ensure that the lessons and lectures are consistent with the requirements in national teaching standards to increase the likelihood that these curriculum kits will be used.


The idea for The Chemistry of Fire curriculum kit originated from a series of lectures and experiments that Michael Faraday delivered in the early and mid-1800s. These lectures and experiments explored subjects such as how fuels burn, flame structures and products of combustion. They were intended to capture the attention and interest of lay audiences while providing scientific information in an easy-to-understand format. SFPE and Discovery Education will expand upon Faraday's lectures to address subjects such as spread of fire and creation of toxic fire products. One part of The Chemistry of Fire curriculum kit will also identify how knowledge about basic fire science can be applied to design ways to protect people and property from fire.


Once completed, The Chemistry of Fire curriculum kit will be distributed to almost 20,000 schools in the United States, with the potential to reach nine million students annually. Additional copies will be available from SFPE. The Chemistry of Fire curriculum kit will provide two major benefits. First, scientifically oriented high school students will learn about fire protection engineering at a time when they are considering career options. Secondly, basic fire safety strategies will be provided to millions of high school students along with information regarding why the fire safety strategies are important. It is hoped that these students will apply these strategies in their homes and in the homes of other family members, and hopefully retain this information for a lifetime.


The Chemistry of Fire curriculum kit will be provided to 20,000 high schools, along with information regarding why the fire-safety strategies are important.


Fire Protection Engineering welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to engineering@sfpe.org or by mail to Fire Protection Engineering, 7315 Wisconsin Ave.,#620E, Bethesda, MD 20814

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